O’Toole: One-sided interim Fiscal Framework highlights weakness of Executive negotiation

finance matthew o'toole

SDLP Leader of the Opposition Matthew O’Toole MLA has said the Interim Fiscal Framework signed today is simply a list of areas where Executive parties have caved into Tory and Treasury demands without securing a penny in additional funding or flexibility beyond that which was already announced.

The interim Fiscal Framework confirms the principle of a 124% so-called needs based factor on top of the existing Barnett formula, something that had already been agreed but not applied to the Barnett consequentials which arose from the UK Spring Budget.

Despite a broad view among local parties that the needs based factor should be higher than this, the Finance Minister was only able to secure a vague agreement that the UK Government might review this in the future.

In exchange for this and other funding that had already been confirmed for months, the Finance Minister has agreed a raft of conditions which could impinge upon devolution without securing any additional funding commitments from the Treasury.

They include a so-called Joint Exchequer Committee to examine fiscal powers, which was not previously announced and comes on top of the Public Service Transformation Board, both of which risk Whitehall officials and UK ministers encroaching ever more into devolved policy making without any new guarantees of funding or flexibility.

Stormont Finance Committee Chair Matthew O’Toole MLA said:

“We were led to believe that the new Fiscal Framework was the route to increased spending power and a more sustainable fiscal footing for the North. But this one-sided document is an embarrassing restatement of all the areas where Executive parties have already folded to Tory and Treasury demands with only flimsy promises of future reviews of Northern Ireland’s funding needs. More embarrassingly, the Finance Minister has in black and white agreed to examine further revenue raising after her and her colleagues spent their first weeks in office denying they were examining revenue raising.

“What is particularly concerning is that the Finance Minister has agreed to a raft of new constraints on devolved Government, including both a Public Service Transformation Board and a Joint Exchequer Committee, without binding commitments to further improvements in our funding model. After months of rhetoric on challenging the Tories, this Fiscal Framework amounts to a capitulation to their every wish.

“If this is what challenging the Tories looks like, I’d hate to see what giving in to them looks like.”

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